The expert on everything

Adam Dudding at the SST profiles Gareth Morgan:

Setting aside the unprovoked Yank-baiting, let’s have a quick recap of the people to whom Morgan has recently offered free, potentially unwelcome, advice.

Cat-owners, obviously, and he embellished his position by telling The Atlantic magazine: “The most oft-heard and erroneous utterance we get here from cat owners is, ‘Oh but my pussy only kills rats and mice, he’d never harm a native bird.’ As you can see this denial verges on explicit stupidity.”

He told Wellington’s Phoenix football team (which he part-owns) it needed to start playing a more “attractive” attacking game (the team has since performed even worse than usual). Fans who disagree are “pathetic” and “don’t know much about the game anyway”, he told Radio Sport.

Last year he told the Greens they don’t understand economics, urged farmers to abandoned “environmental retards” Federated Farmers, and suggested the government totally restructure the tax and welfare systems.

He’s co-authored books setting the record straight on climate change (it’s happening), public health (it needs reform), the world’s fisheries (they’re running out), and the finance industry (it’s ropey). When his investment company, GMI, launched its own KiwiSaver fund in 2007, part of his pitch was that all the other providers were doing it wrong. When challenged last year about the fund’s underwhelming performance, he said investors and the financial media were ignorant.

Taking an interest in the world is one thing, but the sheer breadth of Morgan’s claimed areas of wisdom, and the fact that his personal wealth allows him the time to run around sharing it, have seen him become arguably New Zealand’s biggest know-all.

Everyone is ignorant and pathetic except Gareth it seems.

Naturally, he claims to know what he’s up to.

Apparently, behind the provocations and the droopy moustache lies the coolly calculating brain of a trained economist who still believes in the miracle of the market and the rationality of people – just so long as they’re well-informed (which isn’t to say he’s a fellow-traveller with the free-market fanatics of the ACT party, whom he considers “mad” and “disgusting”).

Questioning the status quo “is just a natural effect of being trained as an economist. You tend to be looking at the public good.”

His methods, as irritating as they may be, are simply about efficiently disseminating high-quality data. “You basically scatter the chooks and then you say, ‘Calm down. I’ve got your attention. Now look at the evidence.’ “

If only that was the case. But in reality his cat jihad is the exact opposite of what you’d expect from even a primary school economist. The most basic thing in economics is you look at both benefits and costs. Morgan has just done a rant about the cost of cats, and ignore any benefits. That isn’t high quality data. That is low quality polemics.

Eric Crampton does what Morgan didn’t, and applies economics to the cat issue. Eric also linked to a website showing with great humour how lethal cats are. Far far more effective than what did.

Also Claire Browning at Pundit exposes some hypocrisy:

Gareth’s speech to our 2012 conference was a doozy. A cautionary tale of the “green extreme”, on how “tub-thumping activism” was giving conservation a bad name, he rounded off by telling a 14 year old girl (a guest of ours, who stood up and bravely, passionately challenged him in front of a room of 300 people) that her question was “pathetic” – and somewhere in the middle of it all, offered this:

“2. … polarization of views on conservation – if you’re pro-conservation you’re anti economic growth. This needlessly alienates huge numbers of people from conservation that should be our constituency.

“Considered conservationists need to have the courage now to disown publicly this behavior,” he said, and ensure that those responsible for it were marginalised.

Shouldn’t you at least practice what you preach? Browning also points out:

Gareth’s playing politics. He wants something moderate, if we’re lucky; he’s flying a kite for something extreme.

For better or worse, he’s started a predator-free New Zealand debate. Yay! I wish it were PFNZ we were debating, not cats! I agree with him: “some of the debate has been pretty facile” – chiefly, the information on his own website.

But there’s no use (my friend and former colleague Nicola) whiningabout how the results of this are “frankly disturbing” – rambling about how some of your best friends are cats, etc. He threw a grenade, and lit a fire – he is the grenade, his own wee self-contained incendiary device. Not much cause for complaint about the results, and Gareth sure isn’t complaining.

What we’ve also got is a sort of low-grade civil war in which – redubbing his own words to our conference – “if you’re pro-bird, you’re anti-cat”. And what’s really disturbing here is the lack of policy smarts about it.

Having found your problem, is the response well-targeted? Is it a proportional response? Benefits vs costs?

From the people who weren’t Gareth, we learned what those of us with cats already know: there’s no basis to vilify all cats. Not all house cats are hunters (I’m not offering this on my own observation, although this is also true). Even among those who are, overall, imperfectly, it probably works out:

And Claire provides lots of links.

Having your son earn you lots of money doesn’t make you an expert on everything.

This is not to say I think Morgan is of no value. I’m reading his book on Antarctica at the moment, and it is pretty good. I’ll do a review when I have finished. But any value from his energy and contributions is fast disappearing as he becomes just an angry ranting rich guy. Morgan should practice what he preaches and actually provide us with high quality data.

Richard Boock reviews his performance as a team owner:

If a presentation was to be made on “what not to do as a pro sports team owner”, Morgan’s example this season would be front and centre. It was funny enough when he started rebuking the local media for not being sufficiently sycophantic in their reporting, and threatening to take games away from Wellington unless more people attended. As a Twitter pal mentioned, it was like he was channelling Basil Fawlty, berating folk for daring to complain.

Still, Morgan’s most recent strategy, attacking his own fans’ views as “pathetic”, and “unsophisticated”, and suggesting many didn’t understand the game, was staggeringly funny even by his standards. Forget the pot and the kettle for a moment, the idea he thinks anything positive will come from slagging off his own customer base is standup comedy material. What will he do next to fans? Threaten to lock them out?

One could almost make a comedy show from it indeed!

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