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A guest post by John Bishop. His eat drink travel blog is here:
It’s hard to imagine government buildings being interesting but Malaysia’s administrative centre at Putrajaya about 30 minutes outside Kuala Lumpur certainly is proof to the contrary.
Putrajaya is a planned city and government shifted there in 1999 after downtown KL became too crowded. However Kuala Lumpur is still Malaysia’s capital. It is home to the King and Parliament, as well as being the country’s commercial and financial centre.
In Putrajaya every government agency makes a solid statement with its own building with its own style. No expense has been spared in this strenuous assertion of Malaysian prosperity and prestige as a nation. In Sanskrit, “putra” means “prince” or “male child”, and “jaya” means “success” or “victory”.
The architectural parallels with foreign capitals are unmistakeable.
The centrepiece is the seven kilometre boulevard leading to the palace like structure entirely devoted to the offices of the Prime Minister.
At the other end of the boulevard is the convention centre designed to look like a space ship where the government hosts large international delegations.
The grandeur of the architecture recalls Paris and Washington, with the broad sweeping tree lined boulevard suggesting the Champs Elysée.
The area is clean, planned, and orderly and not a shop or a hoarding in sight. This is about government. It is a statement that Malaysia is a regional power, economically if not militarily, confident, prosperous, and not to be taken for granted.
The city is within the ‘Cyberjaya’ the government’s Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC). The government plans to make Malaysia into a thoroughly modern state by 2020, partly through a knowledge based societal framework, and the multimedia super corridor is a vital component of that strategy.
The Australians journalists I was travelling with were impressed. Looking at the lake from the bridge along the boulevard, one commented that it certainly put Canberra in the shade.
Of course Wellington has nothing even remotely like this, plans for a lavish government centre around the Molesworth Street area having been shelved long ago.
Actually I was in KL as a guest of Malaysia Airlines who want to promote KL as a stopover from travellers from New Zealand and Australia going either to north Asia or Europe. A group of writers were shown through MAS’s operation where the satay makers work every day turning out thousands of Malaysia’s signature dish.
After the concerns over safety and security crew training is important and all crew do regular refreshers on resuscitation and other emergencies including evacuations down the big slides.
MAS is about to delist from the Malaysian Stock Exchange after the minority shareholders voted to accept a buyout offer from the government owned investment company.
Malaysian taxpayers have already put in a total of $7B into the company since 2001, and after the loss of two aircraft and the decline in traffic, the company is forecast to lose $1.2B – $1.8B this financial year. Without remedial action, MAS was scheduled to run out of cash entirely in 2015.
Under the 12 point recovery plan now being implemented there’ll be a further capital injection of $2.6B and jobs will also be reduced from 20 000 to 14 000. Service will be modernised, new aircraft may be purchased but little change is expected to routes. Already commentators in KL are talking of a return to profitability and a relisting of the company in three years’ time.Tags: Malaysia
Earlier this year the Fraser Institute from Canada who research and analyze public policy issues published an article about the optimum size of government. The article cites the research of Canadian economist Livio Di Matteo who has written a research paper on this topic (see end of this post for the web link).
The key question is at what point does increasing government spending actually hinder economic growth and progress on complex social issues?
Over the years, economists have measured the effect of the size of government on economic growth and social outcomes such as life expectancy, infant mortality, homicide rates, educational attainment, and student reading proficiency.
The source data used by Di Matteo was from the OECD.
The key findings were.
Di Matteo’s analysis confirms other work showing a positive return to economic growth and social progress when governments focus their spending on basic, needed services like the protection of property. But his findings also demonstrate that a tipping point exists at which more government hinders economic growth and fails to contribute to social progress in a meaningful way.
The big takeaway in Di Matteo’s paper is that government works best (ie. economic growth) when government spending is 26% of GDP. For societal programs the optimum figure is 30-35%. Beyond this point the benefits of unchecked spending by governments on social programmes show less and less benefits. Di Matteo (page 86) cites increased government spending on programmes to reduce infant mortality rates at birth as a typical example.
US Federal Government spending was according to the OECD in 2012 40% of GDP. Also bear in mind the huge US pubic debt ($US18 trillion) is too high. By comparison as of 2014 New Zealand government spending is just under 36% of GDP.
According to the Fraser Institute Canada is an example of what can be achieved by reducing the size of government.
The federal and many provincial governments took sweeping action to cut spending and reform programs. This led to a major structural change in the government’s involvement in the Canadian economy. The Canadian reforms produced considerable fiscal savings, reduced the size and scope of government, created room for important tax reforms, and ultimately helped usher in a period of sustained economic growth and job creation.
This final point is worth emphasizing: Canada’s total government spending as a share of GDP fell from a peak of 53 percent in 1992 to 39 percent in 2007, and despite this more than one-quarter decline in the size of government, the economy grew, the job market expanded, and poverty rates fell dramatically.
It is of note that reducing government spending didn’t increase poverty rates in fact the opposite happened.
[UPDATE]: The Fraser Institute article mentions poverty in Canada. Note the article was written in March 2014 and as clearly stated are not discussing the most recent data and is talking about a specific period.
There are of course many debating points here but the challenge for economists and politicians is to better understand the specific effects of state spending. The mind-set should be that government spending be carefully monitored and not expanded unless there are concrete reasons to do so.
Measuring government in the 21st Century by Livio Di MatteoSize of government
By John Stringer
Went and saw this last night, it was definitely on my list of new releases to see on the big screen, butFury won out first (Review: Fury (Brad Pitt) the Tank movie 2014) and I think I made the right choice despite very good reviews across the board.
I’m not quite sure how to feel about this movie, so let’s cut to the building blocks.
Lead man is Matthew McConaughey (Cooper) well-known to all of us but not really a big star (U-571etc). This is perhaps his biggest break since Sahara 2005 when he was also the lead. A restrained, square-jaw, McC is undisputedly manly but does he have the gravitas to carry-it-off? Just I think, as an interstellar pilot. He’s a reprise of Keir Dullea (Dr. David Bowman) of the 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and this film is essentially an oblique rework. It even has HAL 9000s in the form of “Case” and “Tars” coolOdyssey monolith-esque walking talking robot jenga blocks.
Lead woman is Anne Hathaway and ever since her AMAZING piece in Les Miserables is just legend! We also have Michael Caine, John Lithgow (Third Rock from the Sun, appropriately), Ellen Burstyn (The Five People You Meet in Heaven,appropriately) and Matt Damon makes an unexpected mid-way appearance. Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane of Hunger Games, and the creepy kid in American Beauty) is a crew member. Produced and directed by the UK Nolan brothers; Chris Nolan made his big break with Batman Begins, same year as Sahara.
The synopsis is a team of explorers travel through a wormhole near Saturn, put there by“them” in an attempt to lead us to a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity. “We were never meant to stay here, but to leave.” Things are bad on earth. There is a subplot of the Great Depression Dust Bowl, and the movie even has vox pop video records of actual people talking about that experience but appropriated to the current.
And we get lots of fields of corn, ala Signs (Gibson) and Field of Dreams (Cosner). What is it with corn fields (is it the crop circles)? There’s even a great chasing through the corn fields as per North By North West. So, several classical movie allusions hidden in here.
Here’s the trailer…
There is a very cool unexpected tsunami scene. I liked too, that since things ‘collapsed,’ drones from India have continued flying for decades powered by solar panels, and occasionally come down. Cooper ‘grabs’ them using his laptop and harvests their solar units to run his combine harvesters (frustrated farmer-astronaut). There is also a great piece during the Parent-Teacher interview, when “Murph” the daughter is scolded and gets into a fight for believing the Apollo Moon missions were not a faked conspiracy to bankrupt the Russians into space exploration and expense, now Educational dogma. Space Jock daddy ain’t havin’ that (Unbelievers! …Ah well, back to farm).
The movie tantalizingly does not set us in an era; there’s no opener “Earth: 2034.” Gramps Lithgow recalls the late 20th century, people still drive pickups, there were wars over food. Crops have progressive blights and are failing. “We still have corn, but that too will die.”Most people are farmers. The earth population is much reduced. NASA has secretly survived, hidden away. So, perhaps mid 21st century ( 2050?) but it does not pinpoint it for us. Because this movie slides Time all over the place.
Great special effects, spacescapes, craft, cryogenic freezing, robots, but this movie is a philosophical piece inside the capsules and on icy planets with great views, and so has more humanity and monologues of interest than Gravity had, which was visually spectacular but just lacked the human element. This movie has a good blend of both and the second half is better than the first.
We get lectured about time continuums and poltergeists, gravity as a communication tool transcending time for Beings in a fifth dimension, and all that pseudoscientific gumph. Michael Caine has a lifetime full of blackboards covered in real maths; science and maths as the Hope of humanity. Except mid-mission Anne Hathaway introduces Love. Maybe love is what should decide what choices we make, isn’t that core to humanity, maybe that’s what things are really all about? Ya’ think? Gee, all that time I waisted on that PhD.
And of course McC (Cooper) is sighing and crying the whole time about his abandoned family back home in the dust, starving, and “Murph” his daughter who daddy promised to come back to. A grudge held across time and space and a whole lifetime. That’s gotta suck.
The movie holds together, with a great climax into a time conundrum reminiscent of the psychedelic Space Odyssey finale, but better explained.
But I’m not sure how I feel about it. I loved the Dr Who time gymnastics (they have to make decisions that will cost them back on earth (if they ever get back)…”every hour we spent here is seven back on earth.” So they work fast, to get back to family before they die or are as old as they are now.
Some poignant TV video logs to eachother over time, pics of babies coming and going, people aging, as the crew just stay the same, and a tear jerker at the end between Cooper and Murph (no spoiler).
But there were too many implausible bits that jarred. The crew bar one descend to ahopeful planet leaving the black guy behind to scramble data over the relative longer time and try and learn something about gravity to help the NASA team back on earth. When the crew finally make it back to the ship, well black guy has been there alone for 23 years. Same with Matt Damon, who has lived an eternity alone on a space rock; and at the end, Anne Hathaway, playing house all by herself for eons. It just doesn’t wash. People go mad that alone. What do they do for decades, play Solitaire?
After 23 years Cooper just brushes past the black crew member and doesn’t even say hello. Callous as a comet core. Racism and ageism in space?
And the ending is unresolved, a bit like Space Odyssey. It felt rushed. Gee, we’ve run out of time in a time movie. The sub plot around the son is simply abandoned, we see him no more. Why all the earlier development and angst? Murph dismisses Cooper, “I’ve got my children around me now.” Hello? A lifetime apart, not knowing if he was alive, you’d want a chat and cup of tea, maybe a Mackers, yeah? Nup. “You belong up there, in the stars..GO!” Man alone in the sunsets stuff. Saving family by leaving.
Some overly loud sudden crescendos of classical music (I suppose to mirror Odyssey’sfamous sound track of the Blue Danube?).
Overall I enjoyed this. The characters are excellent and the dust threat on earth interesting. The NASA conspiracy is believable, but once we get out there in time continuums and bouncing off black holes, and breathing pure ammonia, well, the science and attempt to be ‘believable’ lost me. But, a good addition to the sci fi stable this season. I preferred the story and action of Tom Cruise’s latest outings Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow; and Prometheus; and Gravity.
7/10 stars plus a black hole from me.Tags: John Stringer, Movie Review
Normally one is not inclined to pass judgement on someone who has never been convicted of any crime. But at last count around two dozen women have come forward to say they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, which is enough for me to conclude that there is no smoke without fire.
It’s sad as more and more of our childhood icons such as Rolf Harris and Bill Cosby are exposed not just as flawed human beings, but in fact serial predators and rapists.
Also disturbing is that some of the allegations against Cosby are decades old, but only through social media, has they gained global prominence – which allowed other victims to come forward.
Almost beyond belief is the fact that he appeared in Florida this weekend, and got a standing ovation from the crowd.
The Cosby Show was the most popular show on television for much of the 1980s. It was No 1 in the US from 1985 to 1989. For many people Cosby was playing himself when he portrayed Cliff Huxtable. But it turns out he was very much acting.Tags: Bill Cosby
Just read this article at Vox on how a debate about abortion at Oxford University was cancelled due to protests.
I’m pro-choice but I think it is deplorable that people should try and stop a debate on an issue. The person who got the event cancelled said:
The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue.
How appalling. By her logic we should not debate immigration, welfare, or pretty much anything because they are not abstract academic issues. These are the issues we should be debating.Tags: abortion, free speech
Bill English has announced:
New Zealand remains on track for solid economic growth, more jobs and rising incomes over the next few years, but falling dairy prices and low inflation will make returning to surplus this year challenging, Finance Minister Bill English says. …
The Government’s annual Budget Policy Statement, which will be issued on 16 December along with Treasury’s Half-Year Economic and Fiscal Update, is being compiled in what are unusual times for global economies.
“Falls in global commodity prices such as oil, forestry and dairy, together with weak international consumer price inflation, are posing challenges for governments and central banks around the world,” Mr English said. “New Zealand is not immune to these global trends.
“This combination of lower commodity prices and low inflation means that the nominal or dollar value of New Zealand’s economic output will not grow as fast as previously expected. This will affect farm and company incomes and we expect this to flow into the Government’s books through lower revenue.
I read this as meaning the HYEFU will project that we will not achieve surplus this year. This will be politically embarrassing for the Government if so. Of course the true test will be what the actual outcome is – which will not be known until September next year.
It is a useful reminder that our surplus is fragile and not yet in existence. Even after 2014/15, the need for fiscal discipline and spending restraint will continue. This is not a time for big spending promises.Tags: surplus
Andrew Geddis writes:
The only thing worse than electing the wrong person as leader of Labour is electing him by the narrowest of margins, by virtue of the influence of a handful of individuals acting under instructions.
Labour just made the wrong choice, in the worst possible way.
Obviously, I think that the decision to choose Andrew Little over Grant Robertson was the wrong one however it came about … that’s because Grant is a good friend whom I think will one day make a fantastic Prime Minister of New Zealand. So Andrew Little could be the reincarnation of Jack Kennedy mixed with Bob Hawke by way of Michael Joseph Savage (which he most certainly isn’t) and I’d still be lamenting the Labour Party’s decision to appoint him leader ahead of Grant.
So let’s put aside my personal disappointment at the actual decision that Labour has made and instead look at how it has done so. Because it looks to me like it’s created an almighty cluster&*k.
First, Little beat Grant by just over 1% of the weighted votes cast. That’s about as close a margin of victory as you can get, achieved on the third round. So the overall mandate for Little’s leadership is … fragile, at best.
Second, Little lost heavily to Grant in both the Caucus and the Membership vote in every successive round of voting. Little was the first choice to be leader of only four of his colleagues (assuming he voted for himself, that is). Only 14 of 32 backed him as leader over Grant by their third choice – meaning 18 of 32 think Grant is a better person to lead them. And in respect of the membership vote, Little was consistently 10% behind Grant at each stage of the vote.
The thing that gave Little the edge, of course, was his support amongst “affiliates” – which means those unions that still retain membership ties with Labour.
Now, I’m not a knee-jerk anti-union person. I am, and always have been, a member of AUS and then the TEU. I served on the local branch committee for a while. I believe strongly in the need for collective organisation and action to protect the rights and interests of working people.
I also accept that the Labour Party has been (and to a degree remains) the political expression of that need. So I don’t have any sort of problem in principle with the union movement having some sort of guaranteed input into the process of selecting the leader of the Party. Plus, of course, its really only the Labour Party’s business how they do things.
But for all that, as a “concerned observer”, I think that the sight of the Labour Party leader being chosen almost purely because of lopsided support amongst the union organisations is a terrible,terrible one for it.
They have a leader rejected by his colleagues and the party members, but there due to the union vote.
It’s not that 75% of the individual members of all the affiliated unions think Little is a better leader than Grant. It’s instead that 75% of those people that each union allowed to decide the issue plumped for Little ahead of Grant. People who, in the case of (say) the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, basically were told by their leaders that they should vote for the guy who used to be their boss.
Only one of the six unions allowed their members to vote. The other five had the bosses cast the votes for them. A few score union bosses got to decide the labour party leadership over the wishes of the caucus and the party members.
Try to imagine if the National Party had a leader who had the support of only four of his colleagues. It’s so ridiculous that you can’t even imagine it.
But then imagine if the National Party had a leadership system where the Auckland Chamber of Commerce Board got say 7% of the vote, the Wellington Employers Association Council got 5%, the Federated Farmers Executive got 6% and those three employer and industry groups got to determine the National Party leadership over the wishes of the caucus and/or the membership?
Here’s the real problem for Labour. In a rational party, some senior members or activists would be speaking up and saying “hey our rules have led to us having a leader who failed to win a majority of support from either the caucus or the members, this is a bad look, so we should review the rules”. But no one dares say this in public, even though they are saying it in private.Tags: Andrew Geddis, Labour Leadership