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Posts Tagged ‘free market’

A little trick borrowed from the former Soviet bloc…

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In the late 1970s, I had the opportunity to visit my parent’s homeland, behind the Iron Curtain. It was possibly the most educative experience of my life, and I had an opportunity to witness, first hand,  an economic and social system that was quite alien to me.

Some of the lessons I learnt…

  1. Extreme economic policies – whether marxist-leninist or neo-liberal – don’t work, and will ultimately fail. Neither cater for human needs, individually or socially.
  2. It’s true what they say about centralised planning and the public transport system; it was incredibly cheap, efficient, and very user-friendly.
  3. Alway take extra jeans with you to sell on the black market.
  4. Do not mess with the local police. Ever.
  5. Unemployment doesn’t exist in a socialist country – though they have three or four people doing the job of one. That’s the trade-off; unemployment or over-staffing. Which do you prefer? (At least with over-staffing, there were few idle hands for mischief-making and you didn’t have to waste money on unemployment benefits.)
  6. New Zealand was actually more egalitarian (or socialist or whatever you want to call it) in the 1970s, under Norman Kirk and Robert Muldoon – than an actual Soviet Bloc country. Weird – but that’s how it felt.
  7. There was no such thing as inflation. Oh no – they just changed the labels. So Brand X of coffee at 100 forints would disappear off the shelf, to be replaced with Brand Y, at 110 forints. Or a lower weight. That was marxist/leninism’s version of capitalism’s “creative accountancy”.

And it appears that, judging by recent media reports, New Zealand businesses have caught on to Item #7. Instead of raising prices, simply reduce the content.

The only thing is… it didn’t work very well for the Soviet Bloc, and their economies  eventually all but collapsed by the late 1980s, or early 1990s.

Just a thought for us smug Westerners. Reducing content and/or brand-name replacement is only a temporary sticky-plaster and hides fundamental problems with the economy.

As if the lessons of the global banking crisis and resultant recession wasn’t enough of a clue for the West…?

Ok, who’s up for a 150 135 gr bar of Cadbury?

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“Whatever happened to the Golden Mile?”

9 April 2012 7 comments

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Whatever happened to the Golden Mile?” asks right-wing Auckland Councillor;  National Party member; supporter of ACT politicians; and one-time almost-ran National Candidate, Cameron Brewer.

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ACT MP John Banks, David Lumsden, Cr Cameron Brewer

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Cr Brewer is complaining about the transformation of  Auckland’s “Gold Mile” in Queen Street. He says,

Now it has come down to these little shoebox shops selling absolute rubbish.

You really have to wonder the logic of the council wanting to spend nearly $500 million on CBD and waterfront upgrades over the next 10 years, when at the same time it’s signing off these awful little developments.

It completely runs counter to the mayor’s vision of creating a world class city centre.

Pocket traders would only send good retailers and shoppers away to the suburbs.

Only five years ago Queen St had about $50 million of ratepayers’ money spent on it, and more recently the same amount was spent on Aotea Square and millions on turning some side streets into shared spaces.

Then council allows this. It’s very frustrating. The planning department needs to start talking to the economic development department, because things have got to change.” – Ibid

Then he added, quite oddly,

Sometimes it’s more about getting a migrant visa, than creating a sustainable business.”

Am I getting the impression that Cr Brewer just took a ‘dig’ at immigrants?!

The irony here is that Mr Cameron is a National Party member, and has worked for ACT’s Rodney Hide and John Banks. Part of  the National/ACT ideology is that the free market determines the nature of business – not the State.

This is the same Free Market ideology which allowed dozens of state assets to be privatised; electricity production to be corporatised and sold at a profit; removal of tariffs and flooding NZ  with cheap goods from low-wage countries; the de-unionisation of the workforce; corporate competition forcing down wages; and which determines the price of everything from anzac biscuits to Zoo tickets.

This is the ideology which has transformed many Council Organisations from previously council-run enterprises – to independent, profit-oriented, corporate entities.

In short, the New Right, neo-liberal ideology is that the State has no business being in business, nor creating “unnecessary” impediments and restrictions  to business.

Cameron Brewer is not averse to supporting business, as he stated in a press release on 20 September 2011,

Auckland Council’s draft economic development strategy was peer reviewed by Greg Clark who advises international cities on how to lift their performance. Mr Clark believes Auckland’s number one priority should be creating a “business-friendly well run-city, with enabling business and investment climate”. “

When Cr Brewer asks “Whatever happened to the Golden Mile?“, the answer is quite simple: the free market is what happened.

And that’s the thing about the “free market” which I would point out to Cr Brewer;  control of our society; the way our communities live; is now at the mercy of  market forces.The bottom-line rules; the Consumer is King; and everything is by the power of the Contract.

Welcome to New Zealand, post-1984.

Eventually, of course,  those same market forces will impact our lives in unintended ways, and cause consequences   that the Cameron Brewers of New Zealand, will not welcome, and will bitterly resent.

After all, how many people in South Auckland angrily resent the proliferation of alcohol outlets in their communities, selling cheap booze at all hours of day and night?

How many people revile the pokie machines that suck  millions of dollars out of families’ pockets, and impact so tragically on communities throughout the country?

Even as Cr Brewer quoted Greg Clark above,

…Mr Clark believes Auckland’s number one priority should be creating a “business-friendly well run-city, with enabling business and investment climate”. “

So Cr Brewer need wonder no more as to “Whatever happened to the Golden Mile?

He got what he voted for.

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Related Blogposts

A kronically inept government

You’ll have a free market – even if it KILLS you!

Booze – it’s time for some common sense

Unfortunate Outrage

Media reports

NZ Herald:  Shoe-box retailer debate heating up

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National signals epic fail – and waves flag of surrender (Part #Rua)

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When National took office in November, 2008, unemployment was on the way up. From a record low of 3.4% in December 2007, it stood at 4.8% a year later.

By December 2009, the Quarter Household Labourforce Survey unemployment rate had risen  to 7.3%,

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The unemployment rate has since dropped back to 6.3%, for the December 2011 quarter. The slow drop from 7.3% to 6.3% has taken two years to achieve – and even the cause of that outcome is debateable, as New Zealand  “baby boomers”  start retiring and others  escape our stagnating economy to Australia.

I will make one thing clear; I do not lay blame nor responsibility for the doubling of our unemployment at the feet at National. The 2008  global banking crisis, ongoing recession, and massive debt-problems were issues beyond any political Party in any country. National inherited an international situation not of it’s direct making. (Though National does espouse a neo-liberal ideology which most certainly contributed to the crisis in capitalism.)

As an interesting aside; National and it’s groupies  (quite rightly) blame the 2008 recession for our high unemployment rate. However, they conveniently ignore the 2008 recession when engaging in beneficiary-bashing – then the issue of  increased unemployment is a “lifestyle choice”.

However, this blogger maintains that whilst the rise in unemployment was not National’s fault – that National has been derelict in it’s duty to address the crisis in joblessness. Bashing beneficiaries and painting them as lazy layabouts indulging in a “lifestyle choice” will not create one single job.

Blaming beneficiaries for a global situation they had no hand in making is an abrogation of responsibility by National.

I think we all know by now that National hasn’t a clue when it comes to job creation. They have no policies to generate jobs, and what what they have been doing has been tragically counter-productive,

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This blogger is aware of one solo-mum who used the TIA to go through University; upskill; find a well-paid job;   move of welfare; and is now a tax-paying member of society. But I guess that is not the meme that National wants  entering the public consciousness. Their agenda is better served by scapegoating solo-mothers. (But never solo-dads.)

See:   Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

Paula Bennett  used the TIA to put herself through University; upskill; and then move on to a more well-paid benefit; she became Minister of Welfare.

See: Hypocrisy – thy name be National

Bennett’s axing of the TIA and other cutbacks in training and upskilling is what is colloquially known as a false economy.  It may save a few million bucks now – but will only delay the Day of Reckoning when we end up with an untrained, low-skilled society.

Even John Key made this a theme of his speech four years ago,

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The National Party has an economic plan that will build the foundations for a better future.

  • We will focus on lifting medium-term economic performance and managing taxpayers’ money effectively.
  • We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.
  • We will cut taxes, not just in election year, but in a regular programme of ongoing tax cuts.
  • We will invest in the infrastructure this country needs for productivity growth.
  • We will be more careful with how we spend the cash in the public purse, monitoring not just the quantity but also the quality of government spending.
  • We will concentrate on equipping young New Zealanders with the education they need for a 21st century global economy.
  • We will reduce the burden of compliance and bureaucracy, and we will say goodbye to the blind ideology that locks the private sector out of too many parts of our economy.
  • And we will do all of this while improving the public services that Kiwis have a right to expect.  

Because the hard truth is that Labour’s economic underperformance hasn’t delivered the social dividend they promised us.  

So, make no mistake: this election won’t be fought only on Labour’s economic legacy.  National will be asking Labour to front up on their social legacy, too. Many of the social problems the Government said it would solve have only got worse.

This time a year ago, I talked about the underclass that has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. Labour said the problem didn’t exist.  They said there was no underclass in New Zealand.

But who now could deny it?  2007 showed us its bitter fruits. The dramatic drive-by shooting of two-year-old Jhia Te Tua, caught in a battle between two gangs in Wanganui. The incidence of typhoid, a Third World disease, reaching a 20-year high. The horrific torture and eventual death of three-year-old Nia Glassie. The staggering discovery of a lost tribe of 6,000 children who are not enrolled at any school.” – John Key, “State of the Nation Speech”,  29 January 2008

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John Key finished of that speech  by saying,

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We will not sweep problems under the carpet.  We will not meet the country’s challenges by quietly lowering our expectations.”

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So how has National performed?

Not so good, I’m afraid. (But that’s hardly surprising.)

Aside from cutting back on training, National seems to be engaged in a clandestine programme to actually keep wages depressed. Bill English admitted as much last year, on TVNZ’s Q+A when he let slip that New Zealands lower wages were a competitive advantage to Australia,

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“”Well, it’s a way of competing, isn’t it? I mean, if we want to grow this economy, we need the capital – more capital per worker – and we’re competing for people as well…

“… we need to get on with competing with Australia. So if you take an area like tourism, we are competing with Australia. We’re trying to get Australians here instead of spending their tourist dollar in Australia.” – Bill English, 10 April 2011

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Despite a low-wage economy being counter-intuitive for a multitude of common-sense reasons, it appears that – with National’s coded  assent – some local industries are attempting to drive down wages and develop a low-wage economy.

The current industrial disputes with AFFCO and Ports of Auckland Ltd are based purely around driving down wages  by cutting conditions; casualisation; and crushing unions in the workplace.

In October last year, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels that their industry needed more cheap foreign labour,

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SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.” ” – Source

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See: Is this where New Zealand is heading?

See: Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint

The prospect of slave crews on foreign fishing vessels in our territorial waters was a step too far, even for right-wing blogger and National Party cadre, David Farrar. He seemed horrified at what a ministerial inquiry and US journalist had uncovered. (Or perhaps it was faux-disgust, to try to distance National from slavery on New Zealand’s high seas. Who can tell.)

See: A Slave By Any Other Name

However, it was not a good look for one of our industries to be lobbying National to permit more cheap labour into New Zealand. Even if it was to be far out at sea, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, our US-based clients were not too happy when they found out what was going on under our noses, and from which we were seen to be profitting,

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Now, National’s inaction on job creation, training, and upskilling is beginning to bite. Reliance on the free market has not achieved any desirable, measurable goals. In fact, business is still luke-warm at hiring and training new staff.

Global finance and accounting firm Robert Half’s director director, Andrew Brushfield, expressed surprise at  the “cautious hiring predictions among New Zealand CFOs”. Really? No sh*t, Sherlock.

So where does that leave us;

  • A National government that is cutting training allowances
  • No government employment-creation programme to speak of
  • No state apprenticeship programme
  • Leaving job creation and training to the ‘market’
  • The ‘market’ being reluctant to generate employment

No wonder unemployment is still at 150,000.

And little wonder that, with 150,000 jobless, and no jobs training, the Christchurch re-build is now hampered by a shortage of skilled tradespeople,

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To illustrate how short-sighted National (and it’s right wing hangers-on and sycophantic businesspeople),  Weltec offers seventeen week (full time) courses in the painting trade,

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If has been fourteen months since the tragic, devasting quake of 22 February 2011. We could have had a small army of in-training workforce ready to go by now.

FBG Developments managing director, Fletcher Glass,  could have his 50 painters – and more – instead of complaining bittlerly,

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You can’t train skilled tradespeople in two years, and even if you could train 24,000 tradespeople, you would over-saturate the market after the rebuild.  If you get tradespeople from other parts of the country, you will deplete those places of tradespeople, and that will drive rates up. That will make house prices go up, so buying a house would be even less achievable.’

Hiring overseas workers would prevent Christchurch from turning its problem into a nationwide problem. If you need 6000 painters at the peak of the rebuild, that’s every painter in Dunedin and Wellington.” – Ibid

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What absolute rubbish.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr Glass , like SeaFIC, is seeking  painters from Southeast Asia because they will accept minimum wage.

So we can add the following to the above list, as to why we have a shortage of trained tradespeople to take part in Christchurch’s re-build,

  • Employer self-interest

As a point of interest, the above media article also conducted a poll. It asked a simple question,

Should New Zealand fast track visas for overseas tradesmen?

Yes, we need more workers urgently
85 votes, 20.4%

No, we should train more NZers
332 votes, 79.6%

Nearly 80% of New Zealanders have enough common sense to realise what we should be doing. Obviously, none of those 80% are represented by any of National’s current  59 members of Parliament.

In case anyone is foolish enough to accuse this blogger of being fiscally naive, I refer to a BERL report, last year,

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Industry training has billions in benefits – study

A new study suggests the country could lose between $7.2 and $15.1 billion dollars annually if the Government withdrew its investment in industry training.

The study by the Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) sets out to quantify the costs and benefits of industry training both to businesses and to the country.

According to one model, it found a cut in all public funding towards industry training would result in a loss in gross domestic product of 0.6 to 1.8 percent by 2014, and between 2.9 and 6 percent by 2021.

That equated to a loss of between $1.2 and $3.7 billion annually in the short-term and between $7.2 and $15.1 billion in the long term.

BERL said under such a scenario, the loss of skilled labour would have a detrimental effect on the export sector, crimping its capacity and reducing its competitiveness as industries competed for a smaller pool of talent.

The report, commissioned by the Industry Training Federation, said the results underlined how the country’s skill levels could ”positively impact on the quality and value of the goods and services produced, and the standard of living in New Zealand”.

However, it also noted the economy was complex and warned that ”any attempts to prioritise or isolate particular industries, sectors, occupations or skills as being more or less important are economically unsound  “.  – Source

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Training up unemployed New Zealanders who’ve lost their jobs over the last four years of recession; it’s not just a good idea or a “nice to have” – it’s bloody well obvious!

National’s faith in free market forces is admirable. But the rest of us gave up believing in Father Christmas, Easter Bunny, and Superman as we grew up. (Though having Superman around might be useful.)  It is high time that John Key and his Merry Band gave up their quasi-religious belief in the Invisible Hand of The Free Market.

Ideology will not re-build Christchurch. We need many hands – trained up and paid well – to do the work. 150,000 pair of hands!

I leave (almost) the last word to  Dear Leader,

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We know this isn’t as good as it gets.  We know Kiwis deserve better than they are getting.  We are focused on the issues that matter and we have the ideas and the ability to bring this country forward. 

National is ambitious for New Zealand and we want New Zealanders to be ambitious for themselves. ” – John Key, “State of the Nation Speech”,  29 January 2008

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Wouldn’t that be a fine thing?

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History Lesson – Toru – Jobs

20 March 2012 4 comments

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Another look back into our recent history. Just to remind ourselves, that what is past, is prologue…

Firstly, too many of our simple-minded fellow New Zealanders still cling to the bigotted fantasy that those on welfare benefits are there “by choice”.  Currently, our unemployment stands at 150,000 – or 6.3% of the workforce.

But was it always so…?

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6 June 2002

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14 September 2002

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New Zealand’s growth rate in the early to mid 2000s was between 4% and 6%, and the skilled labour shortage reflected an economy that was doing well,

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Tony Alexander, the BNZ’s chief economist, was reported to have said that “businesses are also going to have to consider helping with basic education. They are going to have to take on less  skilled people and train them up in reading, writing, and arithmetic“,

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24 October 2002

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Unemployment dropped to a record low of  3.8%  by December 2007. Interestingly, as the recession impacted on our economy, unemployment soared. It is no secret that unemployment and recessionary periods are closely intertwined,

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28 October 2002

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Our GDP (per capita, adjusted by purchasing power parity) rose steadily in the 2000s, levelling of post-2008,  as the global banking crisis hit New Zealand, creating into a full-blown recession,

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The result of leaving everything up to the free market – a skills shortage. It became readily apparent that businesses demanded well-educated, trained, experienced workers – but were not prepared to pay for that upskilling. That was the role of the State. So much for the State staying out of  the Market – when the Market could not/would not, invest in skills training as required,

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20 November 2002

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As the economy boomed, the government post surplus after surplus. (So much for the mischief-making  from certain National/ACT agitprops who scurrilously spread the lie that the previous Labour Government mis-managed the economy.) The actual data is  on record for all to see,

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Which, in turn, allowed Labour’s finance minister, Michael Cullen to pay down our sovereign debt,

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As always, the building industry was affected. Which is in marked contrast to builders who, in the last couple of years were finding work hard to come by. But in 2002, it was a completely different world,

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25 November 2002

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Even though the economy was growing and unemployment was dropping, it was evident that people’s skills (or lack of) did not match the demands of employers for their businesses. This failure of the Market to upskill workers, to meet the needs of business, is  yet more clear evidence that without State assistance and intervention, economic growth is stifled.

If the self-regulating “Invisible Hand” of the Marketplace acted as per theory, then unskilled unemployed should be upskilled by businesses as required.  This did not happen,

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2 December 2002

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The point of this history lesson is that a poorly performing economy will not maximise the use of available human labour. Or to put it more plainly, if the economy is in recession – expect high unemployment.

That is fairly simple to understand.

Those politicians, and their groupies, who talk about a “welfare lifestyle” or “welfare dependancy” are being deliberately disingenuous. These  politicians are well-educated, sophisticated men and women who have a clear understanding of economic forces and their consequences.

Politicians understand that very few people are on welfare as a “lifestyle”. And “dependancy” should actually mean being dependant on state assistance – or the alternative being to starve. Those who are unemployed are as “welfare dependent” as an astronaut in space is “spacesuit dependent”.

In truth, when the likes of John Key, Paula Bennett, et al, talk of  “welfare lifestyle” and/or “welfare dependancy” – they are using ‘code’ to paint welfare recipients as being the architects of their misfortune.

Because, dear fellow New Zealanders, as we all know, the unemployed here in New Zealand were sitting in the Boardrooms of  Goldman Sachs, AIG, Bank of Scotland, General Motors, Lehmann Bros, etc, etc, etc, and were responsible for the chaos and misery of the 2008 Recession.

When a politician attempts to paint a welfare beneficiary as “welfare lifestyle” and/or  “welfare dependancy” – they are shifting responsibility from themselves – the people with power – onto welfare reciepients – the most powerless in society- for the pitiful state of the economy here in New Zealand, and  throughout the world.

I wonder if welfare beneficiaries know that they crippled the revered demi-god of Western Capitalism, and brought Wall St and City of London, to it’s knees?

Damn crafty, these benes, eh?

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The “Invisible Hand” of the Free Market?

5 January 2012 1 comment

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The latest evidence of the inability of the “invisible hand” of the Free Market to cope with  the modern complexities of 21st Century society and economy. From an article by Richard Meadows,  in  todays Faixfax website;

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Despite unwillingness to hire, New Zealand businesses paradoxically saw the lack of a skilled workforce as a major impediment to growth in 2012.

Grant Thornton New Zealand partner Peter Sherwin attributed the apparent discrepancy to an overall caution among employers after ”a couple of false dawns”.

Firms did signal concern about the availability of skilled workers 39 per cent, which was 12 per cent higher than the previous period in 2011, he said.

”We have unemployed people but do they have the skills for the jobs that are going to be available? This gets back to one of the real challenges for New Zealand, which is to get a better match between tertiary education and industry.”

Sherwin said there was ”a clear disconnect” between what the education system was producing and industry demands, and he called for a collaboration between industry, the education sector and government to improve the ”connection’‘.” – Source

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What?

Since when does the “invisible hand” of the free market required assistance from the State?

At what point did Business decide that it requires Central Government to fulfill it’s needs?

Since Roger Douglas implemented his neo-liberal “reforms”, the State was to be rolled back and private enterprise allowed to get on with it. We were told time and again;

  • business is more efficient than the state
  • business can meet its own needs
  • the State cannot meet the needs of an economy – that is the role of  business
  • Business = good, Government = bad
  • Business does not need subsidies
  • etc, etc, etc.

In which case why is private enterprise not training and upskilling it’s own workforce?

Why is the “invisible hand” of the free market not providing a skilled workforce, according to laws of Supply & Demand?

Because, my dear fellow, New Zealanders; like the “trickle down” theory, the “Invisible Hand” of the free market is bollocks.

The “free market” an  ideological scam; a confidence trick fed to the public to justify rolling back the State; cutting social services; implementing User Pays; and reducing taxes for the rich. Like a carefully constructed religious cult, the New Right scammers have their loyal  followers who have been sucked into this little ‘game’, to spread the “Gospel of Greed”.

Every so often, though, aspects of the truth appear and we glimpse the reality behind the facade.

The reality is that a modern state cannot function without government; an effective civil service; and social services that are available to all citizens regardless of their material wealth (or lack, thereof).

The reality is that taxes cannot be cut without cutting something in return;  healthcare; education; public transport; and the back-office support staff that allow these services to function.

If we cut the back-office support staff – as this government has done in the last three years – be prepared for some serious stuff-ups. As Anne Tolley discovered recently to her discomfort.

And ultimately, we will see more of this,

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National handed out two tax cuts – April 2009 and October 2010 – and that money had to come from somewhere. Much of it was borrowed from overseas (at $380 million a week) – and the rest was achieved by cutting back on social services.

Like education.

And jobs training.

Which means businesses complaining about a lack of skilled workers;  “Despite unwillingness to hire, New Zealand businesses paradoxically saw the lack of a skilled workforce as a major impediment to growth in 2012.

As BERL pointed out in December last year,

A new study suggests the country could lose between $7.2 and $15.1 billion dollars annually if the Government withdrew its investment in industry training.

The study by the Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) sets out to quantify the costs and benefits of industry training both to businesses and to the country.

According to one model, it found a cut in all public funding towards industry training would result in a loss in gross domestic product of 0.6 to 1.8 percent by 2014, and between 2.9 and 6 percent by 2021.

That equated to a loss of between $1.2 and $3.7 billion annually in the short-term and between $7.2 and $15.1 billion in the long term.

BERL said under such a scenario, the loss of skilled labour would have a detrimental effect on the export sector, crimping its capacity and reducing its competitiveness as industries competed for a smaller pool of talent.

The report, commissioned by the Industry Training Federation, said the results underlined how the country’s skill levels could ”positively impact on the quality and value of the goods and services produced, and the standard of living in New Zealand”.

However, it also noted the economy was complex and warned that ”any attempts to prioritise or isolate particular industries, sectors, occupations or skills as being more or less important are economically unsound”.” – Source

Because many of our skilled workers have had a gutsful and left for Australia.

And around and around and around it goes…

Why? Because relying on the “free market” to achieve certain outcomes is akin to waiting for The Rapture to arrive. Folks, it ain’t never gonna happen.

Eventually the good people of New Zealand are going to realise that National is spinning us a yarn, and is simply relying on ideological dogma for better times.

Personally, I’m putting my money on The Rapture coming first.

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Acknowledgement

To Fear Facts Exposed for source.

Additional Blog Entries

Greed is Good?

“Building better public services” – Really?

Further Reading

Greed of boomers led us to a total bust

Rich list shows rich getting richer

New Zealand’s wealth gap widens

Industry training has billions in benefits – study

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Party like it’s Nineteen Fifty Two!!

1 January 2012 7 comments

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Superintendent Paula Rose, the public face of road safety policing in this country, reported that the road toll for last year (2011) was the lowest on record since 1952. Certainly, 284 fatalities is a remarkable feat when compared to the 800+ that was killed in just one year alone in the decade of the 1970s.

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Even more remarkable when the population was almost half what it is now, and with a lower vehicle-fleet on the roads,

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About now, you might be wondering what this piece has to do with politics.

It’s quite simple.

The drop in road crashes, fatalities, and demands on our hospital services was not a natural occurrence that happened spontaneously.

The lowest road toll since 1952 – despite a steady increase in population, vehicle fleet, roads, and social mobility– happened because society and successive governments took decisive measures to achieve certain objectives.

Through a mix of advertising campaigns; tough legislation; proactive policing; and measures that extended into every aspect of our lives, work, recreational pursuits, etc – society acted collectively to meet desired outcomes.

The free market; individualism; neo-liberal ideology had zero part to play in reducing the road toll from 800+ in the 1970s to 284, last year. If anything, laws that were enforced regarding,

  • reducing drink-driving
  • wearing seat belts
  • reducing speed
  • outlawing cellphone usage whilst driving
  • toughening up on vehicle WoF safety
  • etc

… all played a part in ensuring that 500 people are alive today that – had the road toll not changed – would be dead and in the ground, or scattered ashes, last year. This is where the Cult of the Individual and the Free Market falls down badly. Not with just road safety – but the needs of society as a whole. Those who decry the collective action taken to reduce the road toll as “Nanny Statism” might care to reflect that they themselves could have ended up as a statistic in a walnut coffin.

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Instead, the collective action of governments and community action has kept them alive.

The amazing reduction of the road toll is a vivid example of what  society can achieve when it works together, for the common good.

The enacting of laws; diligent policing; ubiquitous advertising campaigns; and communities that had had enough of losing loved ones to an endless series of horrific crashes – achieved a goal of saving lives. It was (and still is!) an incredibly complex programme – but determination from government; enforcement agencies; and communities working  in unison made it happen.

Imagine if we, as a nation, and starting with good leadership from the community, determined that our goals for the next few years would be;

  • eliminating poverty
  • creating jobs
  • reducing the wealth-gap
  • ensuring a healthy environment for our children

In a previous Blog piece entitled New Year’s Wish List for 2012, I outlined just such goals. A correspondent, Debbie -bless her heart – asked,

However, what are the chances?”

I think the chances are about the same as the magnificent achievement that Superindentant Paula Rose was congratulating us for.

There is no reason on Earth why the four goals above cannot be made into reality.

The benefits would be as positive as reducing the road toll and our country would truly be the envy of the world.

What are the chances, Mr Key? Mr Shearer?

And will you rely on the free market to do it? Because as sure as evolution made little green apples – it wasn’t the free market that saved 500+ people from the grave last year.

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Additional

Inside Child Poverty

Rolls Royce sales rocket as super-rich drive in style

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The “Free Market” is a fair-weather friend.

23 September 2011 3 comments

Ir seems quite likely that New Zealand will soon be joining the ranks of Japan and San Francisco, where earthquake insurance is either highly expensive, or unavailable to home owners,

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Full Story

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Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee may chest-thump and bellow till the cows come home, but if insurance companies – as Chris Ryan is suggesting – no longer consider New Zealand property a safe risk to insure against earthquakes, then he had better start taking notice.

Internationally, the insurance industry has been hard-hit after the severe floods in Queensland; two major quakes in Christchurch; and a triple-whammy in Japan; earthquake, tsunami, and atomic reactor disaster.  Insurance companies have been hard hit, as Reuters reported in March,

“Some analysts said the disaster, combined with heavy losses already suffered this year from floods in Australia and last month’s New Zealand earthquake, could push up global insurance prices, boosting insurers’ shares.

“In our view the loss will be so large that it will probably provide the trigger to ensure a re-rating of the non-life sector,” Panmure Gordon analyst Barrie Cornes wrote in a note.” Source

Climate-related disasters were also impacting on the insurance industry,

“Climate change is largely to blame for Australasia putting in almost a quarter of the world’s natural disaster insurance claims last year.

Data from major reinsurance provider Munich Re, shows that from 1980 to 2009, Australasia was responsible for 3% of natural disaster insurance claims in dollar terms. But after the Christchurch earthquake, floods in Queensland, and enormous hailstones in Melbourne and Perth, that skyrocketed to 22% last year.

Munich Re, in its own report on the deluge of natural disasters, said climate change “is real and continuing” and cited floods in Pakistan and wildfires caused by a heatwave in Russia. The Christchurch quake was not climate-change related.

Munich Re said 2010 was one of the warmest years since 1850 and featured the second-highest number of loss-related weather catastrophes since 1980, when it started keeping data.

Niwa principal climate scientist Dr James Renwick agreed that weather events like heavy rain were linked to global warming. “It’s possible part of the change since the 1980s is natural variation, but I’m sure there’s a climate change component. We know the globe has warmed and it’s well-documented that the occurrence of extreme rainfalls around the world has increased in a way that’s consistent with the climate models,” he says.

“It’s just what you’d expect – you warm things up, more moisture, more energy, more rain falls. There’s definitely a climate change component in extreme rainfalls around the world.” ” Source

So it seems a little strange that Gerry Brownlee is (a) attempting to dismiss Chris Ryan’s warnings as “scaremongering” and (b) is in denial that re-insuring properties in this country will not be a major problem in future. Of course it will be a problem! How can it not?

Insurance companies and their re-insurers have suffered billions of dollars worth of claims over the last year – $34 billion estimated for the Japanese ‘quake and tsunami, alone, according to a Bloomberg report.

Mr Brownlee should know how the free market works. After all, his party – National – espouses the doctrine of the free market as part of it’s core-philosophy.

Even as we face the prospect of the insurance industry abandoning  New Zealand households – we may be  left  to our own devices when it comes to insurance. Which may be the EQC.

Whilst the EQC is not a full-insurance company in the sense of Tower, AMI, AMP, etc, it has provided a level of protection to New Zealanders since it’s inception in 1945.

The only thing is – it’s broke. Two calamitous earthquakes in Christchurch have effectively emptied the Commission’s ‘war-chest’. Source. As John Key said in February of this year,

“”The good news part of the story is that EQC had about $6 billion before that (quake), that’s going to be exhausted, but we pay in on a continuous basis and we had significant re-insurance in the order of $5b, that will be exhausted.””  Source

Irrespective of Mr Brownlee’s futile rantings against the Insurance Council, it should be abundantly clear that in the near future we will not have the insurance cover that we once enjoyed. Those days are over.

We will have to rely on our own resources and our own ingenuity, whether we like it or not. (Most likely ‘not’, going by past experiences of Baby Boomers who like to Spend Now, Pay Later (or Never, preferably – let the kids pay). To that end, the Greens – as usual – have once again realised what must be done,

“So, it seems, the Greens were right all along – a special levy to fund the costs involved with the Christchurch earthquake still makes good sense, if only (this time around) to replenish the funds available to the Earthquake Commission. Yesterday, it became apparent that the likely cost of the Christchurch rebuild had risen by a massive $4 billion.

This blowout means the EQC couldn’t cope with an additional major disaster (ie anything costing over $2.5 billion) and the government would have to pick up the tab, directly. There are three options on the table : (a) a special levy on all taxpayers (b) a further additional charge attached to insurance premiums already expected to rise significantly, or (c) a rise in income taxes.”  – Gordon Campbell,  Source

However, in the light of Chris Ryan’s warnings, we may have to reconsider the role of the EQC to adopt a more wide-ranging, pragmatic role in earthquake and flood insurance. The EQC may have to step in where private insurers once provided a service – or else face the prospect of uninsured properties.  That would have serious consequences for current and prospective building owners.  (Banks currently insist on full insurance cover before they will consider extending a mortgage over a property.)

Once upon a time, we owned an insurance company called – quite simply – State Insurance.   State Insurance was sold in June 1990 by the Bolger-led, National  government of the day.

It now seems that may have been a mistake (as most asset sales were). The people of this country may yet discover that the Free Market is a Fair Weather friend and when times are tough, we will  have to step up and put in place our own, Very Kiwi Solution(s).

The time for a new State-owned insurance company – “EQC-Plus” –  has come.

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