The real reasons cannabis remains illegal?

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There’s been an increase in anxiety surrounding the legalisation of marijuana in New Zealand, lately, mostly due to the impending election. Medical cannabis will eventually be completely legalised, certainly, as it’s just another medicinal drug. However, the debate over medicinal cannabis is frequently conflated with legalising recreational pot-smoking/consumption.

To be clear, smoking pot is widespread and more or less tolerated in New Zealand, unless the police have some other reason to discriminate against you. Keeping marijuana illegal is just another way of giving police the discretion to arrest people they feel might be ‘trouble’.

Forget stigma, this is the main reason it remains both commonplace and illegal. Sure, there’s probably a voting block of boomers who believe that pot is meth’s aperitif, but mainly it remains illegal because it serves a convenient purpose.

The other thing I find interesting is the way this debate is playing out in the mainstream hard-left media. Apparently, the government adds fluoride to water supplies to keep the populace dumbed down and quietly apathetic. Yet the government won’t legalise marijuana?

I grew up completely surrounded by marijuana, and knew many, many MANY people who smoked it all day, every day. If you want a relaxed, apathetic populace, we should add cannabis to the water. Or the next best thing.

To be clear, this does not mean that all people who smoke pot will be apathetic loseroos, of course it doesn’t. Most people use it like they’d use any other kind of drug (like alcohol) – to have a nice time. It’s not a permanent arrangement. If there’s one thing we know, as a recreational drug for ‘sometimes use’ it’s generally well tolerated, safe and nice.

I’m not pro or anti pot – I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous, but it’s not without its risks. Changing your brain (getting high) has all kinds of effects, not matter how you do it. It all comes down to how we judge the effects.

For instance, some people think it’s fun to get a skinful and bash the shit out other people. This is their idea of a ‘good effect’. I think it’s a crap effect. Likewise, some people believe there’s merit to mooching about in your trackies all day – I’m one of them – while others think we should be contributing to the future of humankind by spending ten hours a day mining coal. Each to their own.

 

 

NZ Political analysis from the beltway

….if the beltway is comprised of tea, cats and church.

Here’s my Mum’s take on the NZ Labour Party;

‘They’ll never win. Nope. Not with that chap in charge, he is such a whinger. Everything the government does he whinges about. Everything’.

‘Yeah, I think that’s why it’s called ‘being in opposition’ Mum. If he agreed with them he’d be in the National Party’.

‘Well, he can have a jolly good think about all the whinging is all I’m saying. People aren’t interested in whingers’.

‘Right’.

Pepi pods

New Zealand is currently going through a pepi-pod phase, encouraging new parents to place their baby in a small sleeping pod to prevent cot death. The pepi-pod enables the baby to sleep in the bed next to its parents without fear of being squashed, suffocated, or otherwise lost amongst the Minties in the glovebox.

Yep, turns out that most cot deaths aren’t caused by some mysterious set of factors, they’re just caused by unfashionable ones – poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and formula feeding.

To engage in a little social history…when I was a fresh new Mum my own mother offered to whip me up a ‘banana box’ bassinet. These were common in the 1970s – a long skinny banana box covered in cotton fabric and a little wadding. Babies were separate but accessible – my earliest memories were of a gentle hand reaching down to me through a miasma of cigarette smoke so as I might receive another bellyful of thick, yellowy formula (I should note my Mum didn’t smoke, Dad did. But then so did everyone else. It was the 70s after all).

On another note, I asked Mum the other day what women did before formula. Mum grew up on a remote sheep farm – in those days new Mums did not scrum it out with sinewy Chinese girls for another tin of Karicare, yet breastfeeding wasn’t universal. Cow’s milk was the answer there – fresh, unpasteurised cow’s milk. I’d be fascinated to know how many babies received cow’s milk as their first food.

 

 

 

Housing is the new cholesterol

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.34.54 PMBaby boomers have both the majority of housing and cholesterol.

Frankly, I don’t know why we didn’t see the connection sooner. I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty silly. Jesus, this is like that time I shaved my tongue. Thanks, Facebook!

Remember when housing investment was good? And then it was not so good. Then it was bad. Cholesterol started off bad, then not bad, then good. It’s in eggs.

And eggs are good, right? They’re certainly yellow. And cholesterol is also probably, possibly, potentially yellow in its effects, seek* advice** from a professional***.

Who can see the pattern?

Things are Bad, Not So Bad, Debunked, Oh my God, you can see that agenda from space! I knew that bacon flavoured lip balm was good for me!

Don’t go looking for confounders, or multiplicative effects. No. Just look for things that are Bad, Good or Yellow.

Currently, New Zealand’s housing availability is Not Yellow. This is because there is an election looming.

Roughly the argument goes something like; high cholesterol is strongly correlated with home ownership. Follow the money sheeple!

But here’s where things get beyond the scope of finger puppets. There is more than one factor contributing to the housing shortage in NZ. It’s not just immigration, speculation or intergenerational fleecing.

In fact, it’s a whole bunch of RELATED factors, with multiplicative effects which reach a series of tipping points.

Too hard too hard! Can’t we just hate baby boomers? And immigrants? I have so much hate to give!

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.39.20 PMLet’s have a look at this news article. It appeared on my facebook feed. It’s about restricting NZ’s immigration but the comments section quickly degenerated into a conversation about home ownership.

Apparently, foreigners are buying all the houses, thus driving up prices for New Zealanders. Those fuckers! Swooping in with their haircuts and fancy teeth!

Thing is, of course, only 3% of houses are bought by non residents, and that’s in the frothiest market, Auckland. (The rate is no doubt lower in the rest of NZ, as the market for wobbly weatherboard methlabs in Bunnythorpe is surprisingly bearish).

It’s not immigrants speculating on housing, it’s New Zealand baby boomers. They are seeking capital gain. This is as self-evident as it is yellow. YELLOW!

Although the average rate of investor owned property in Auckland is around 40%, around 70% of ‘entry level’ housing in Auckland was purchased by investors.

This means that would-be first home buyers face the stiffest, frothiest market conditions. (I’m only talking about Auckland here because let’s face it, compared to Auckland everything else IS a meth-lab in Bunnythorpe. Also, Fun fact; 50% of the electoral seats are in Auckland).

So where else will Sue and Brian put their money? How will they grow their wealth in order to pay for the extravagant luxuries they’ve become accustomed to, like heating and meat that hasn’t got a picture of cat on the tin?

The NZ pension pays about 20 grand. Now I can live on rather a lot less than 20 grand, but that’s because I’m a completely impoverished Gen-Xer with a student loan almost entirely comprised of compounding interest (remember that, GenY? Student loans used to have compounding interest. dissolve that in your turmeric mylk, snowflake etc.,). I consider my life fairly comfortable, but I doubt there are many baby boomers who’re willing to climb into my cut-off sleeping bag.

Let’s talk about other reasons baby boomers invest in housing.

Many New Zealanders do not retire with heaps of cash. Their superannuation scheme is voluntary and there aren’t the tax breaks that exist in Australia to encourage saving. For many, their main source of capital is their house. They can use their small savings to buy another house, leveraged off their existing house. Interest rates are low, which means their mortgage is ‘cheap’ and it’s less tempting to keep their money in savings.

As noted above, investors comprise the majority of the lowest quartile of the market. They are effectively bidding one another up, and the resulting increases in rent are worn by tenants and the government (through the ever climbing accommodation supplement – indexed to market rents. NB; In Australia, when the government transfers money to wealthy property owners it’s called ‘middle class welfare’).

Yes, this housing situation is fragile – the bubble might burst, and those who with negative equity may lose both their rental property but also the family home. Not that it matters because they’ll still have some remaining equity and houses will be cheap as chips! However, no one really thinks this will happen – the market isn’t wobbly enough for it to fall over. There may be some corrections, but the reality is, as long as the government continues to pump warm bodies into the cities, she’ll be right.

Sure, Sue and Brian could take their modest savings and invest them in the sharemarket, (Mum and Dad investors), but they’re not comfortable doing that because they don’t know anything about it. The returns might be higher but they equate higher returns with greater risk. At least a house is a real thing. You can constantly reassess your vulnerability with a house. People will always need houses.

So let’s have a capital gains tax, right? Because that will make housing more affordable for lower and middle class families, right? Less liquidity in housing means more liquidity for alternative investment. The rest of the economy will benefit in more balanced growth! Huzzah!

Well, as far as I know the only tolerable capital gains tax model floated so far is one where investors must hold on to the property for 3-5 years to avoid the capital gains tax. That might knock a touch off the froth of the speculation, but it’d be three fifths of fuck all. Hanging onto a rental property for five years isn’t a problem for most baby boomers – they’re going to live to 150 years old.

While we’re here, let’s have a bit of a chat about immigration and infrastructure in Auckland. Underfunding infrastructure is underfunding infrastructure. It’s not a matter of demand outstripping supply – you can always build more infrastructure. In the old days governments used to even plan for it! On paper! Yeah you can limit the number of people moving into cities but….

Sprawl is the new MasterChef. It’s worth it just to wait until the pressure is at fever pitch then expand the outskirts of the city, delivering the maximum profit to landbankers. Land bankers don’t want infill housing or more infrastructure within existing city limits. Neither do homeowners – no-one wants a block of flats next door. Imagine what that’d do to the market value? No, no no, Murray! It’s much safer to return a tax free profit to investors. Because; voting demographics.

It’s worth noting that Australia has capital gains tax, compulsory super that is heavily supported with generous tax incentives and is discussing ways to limit negative gearing BUT its housing market remains far too frothy for almost everyone under the age of 60 to enter in the city.

This polarised, simplified ‘debate’ is what’s known as class warfare/wedge politics.

That’s my contribution for today. Feel free to correct me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

500 words – New Zealanders in Australia

The Australian government’s recent crackdown on the residency of (not just) New Zealanders is gaining rather a lot of attention in the New Zealand media. Apparently, they ‘can’t just keep taking our rights away’.

I’m always amazed at the expectation that New Zealanders have immutable birth rights in Australia. New Zealanders are not actually Australians. So the only reason Australia would want to extend ‘rights’ to kiwis is is they get something in return. For almost all of the nineties and two thousands, what Australia got was an upwardly mobile, constant influx of well educated, mostly healthy adults of working age, who would pay tax but cost the government very little in return. To be clear, there are no shortage of ‘foreigners’ working in Australia who do this too.

New Zealand’s immigration requirements are much more relaxed than Australia’s however – after all, it is the cornerstone of their continued economic growth. As a consequence, New Zealand started being used as a stepping stone to get into Australia. The New Zealand government claims this is not the case, but it is. I could talk more about this but I won’t right now. It’s Occam’s Razor though – one in four kiwis who move to Australia originally came from outside NZ to begin with.

Most recently, this article talks about the introduction of international fees for New Zealanders. Below is a quote from a peevish student, who moved with his entire family to Australia as a teenager. He was considering his degree choices, but the new fees mean he’s now planning to move back to NZ,Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 7.02.55 AM

And that, right there, is why the New Zealand government is dragging its feet to assist New Zealanders in Australia – they want them back. Like the flow of people from the global south to the north, New Zealand is losing its working population. Nominally educated with at least a few of their own teeth, the New Zealand government is looking hard at its own large and unskilled population, as well as the high numbers of non-earners (young and old), and thinking; ‘By Hoki, we could really do with some of the flash ones back!’.

They can’t ‘pull’ them back with higher wages or working conditions, so all they’ve got left is the ‘push’ – Australia making it more and more uncomfortable for New Zealanders to stay in Australia.

The real losers out of this deal are the children, like Laurie, cited above. His parents moved him to Australia but made no attempt to obtain citizenship for Laurie, who would always be, even under the previous arrangements, the child of relatively temporary migrants. There aren’t many kids in this situation – children who are born in Australia to New Zealanders automatically gain citizenship when they turn ten, so really it’s just the kids who’ve moved there at some point during their childhood. It’s got to be pretty hard to move back to NZ when you’ve spent almost all your life in Australia.

 

 

Spoiler alert; Colonisation in Crocs

Let’s play spot the difference;

What’s going on in New Zealand this week? General freaking out about Peter Thiel buying New Zealand citizenship, that’s what. This brand new Kiwi is now the proud owner of a humble pile in Wanaka, apparently hedging his bets against a global, US centric clusterfuck.

Bolt-holes in New Zealand are the latest asset of the uber wealthy, or so we’re told. Don’t worry about being forced out of your country though, like other peaceable, desirable countries with WIFI and vegetables, NZ has an Overseas Investment Office (OIO). It ensures that only the most criminal of oligarchs can purchase state significant land.

So why didn’t Thiel go down this route? Well, as we all know, waiting for approvals on multi-million dollar purchases is so tedious. Sometimes it takes literally months. Luckily there’s another option. You can simply buy New Zealand citizenship, and then purchase whatever land you want! Just like in the olden days. Cos let’s face it, New Zealand citizenship has been a tidy export earner since The New Zealand Company*. Add to cart!

It’s not like Thiel, who is a US citizen, hasn’t bought little bits Pacific islands before. He recently purchased a home on Maui. He’s in good company, his friend Mark Zuckerberg also bought a hugely expensive estate on Maui. In a magazine article (that now seems to have disappeared) locals described Zuckerberg’s attempts to muscle out his neighbours, some of whom are indigenous owners. Zuckerberg started off by offering his neighbours inordinate amounts of money for their land. In the case of the indigenous owners, he got a few representatives to sell him pieces of land. Trouble is, indigenous title is famously complex – it doesn’t always mesh with Western capitalist version of land tenure. While some ‘owners’ took the money, others argued that it wasn’t really theirs to sell. Some people simply didn’t want to leave the place they’d called home for generations. For those who quibbled about the process, Zuckerberg’s lawyers applied force. This is called negotiation between unequal actors. Or, to use its older term, Treaty.

This is just another form of blockbusting – a co-ordinated attempt to reach a tipping point in a neighbourhood. YOU might dig your heels in and stay but everyone else has buggered off. You’re no longer among friends. But hey, if you need a job as a gardener….

It’s not that Zuckerberg or Thiel behaved illegally in Hawaii. After all, they’re simply participating in the real estate market, a market underpinned by the legitimate structures of US government. The same government that turned up about about a hundred years ago and put those structures in place, by legitimately negotiating with the indigenous Hawaiians to cede their sovereignty and accept a US system of private property and governance ….Kidding! Phew, that was getting awkward…

Seriously though, these uber wealthies seem to be doing something relatively unremarkable on Maui; using their wealth to reach a tipping point in the property market, the point at which those who’re left behind choose the carrot (take the money) instead of the stick (community dislocation and/or expensive lawsuit). Simply put, the peasants move on. Forget capital flight!  Deficit flight is where it’s at!

Johnny Moore’s article suggests that Thiel’s New Zealand property venture will be more exciting than his foray into the Hawaiian market. He describes oligarchs on the run, their children kidnapped, houses burnt to the ground. In this age of global connectedness, he argues, the only real bolt-hole is on the moon.

I think this is alarmist. The consequences he suggests are violent and also illegal. You can bet that Mr Thiel won’t be waiting a year for police to turn up at his place when someone sets fire to his woodpile. Not all NZ citizens are equal. ( I also found the casual discussion about kidnapping children bloody terrifying – I think others would too).

What’s more likely, I think, is people like Thiel will engage in a form of hyper-gentrification, a market distortion where one bolt-hole turns into a series of enclave economies. Ordinary New Zealanders will resent being made to feel like second class citizens, but hey, we’ve seen this movie before. See; New Zealand Company. Who’s dispossessed now?

 

*For those playing at home…The New Zealand Company sold parcels of land to British citizens who then sailed all the way to the other side of the world to set up house, only to discover someone else was already mowing the lawn.